India’s defense minister has said navy personnel died in a submarine explosion in Mumbai. Earlier reports stated that at least 18 people were believed to be on board when the submarine caught fire, exploded and partially sank at a naval dockyard.
The blast happened on the INS Sindhurakshak around midnight and was shortly followed by a massive fire. Many of the sailors on board the submarine reportedly managed to jump off to safety, but more than a dozen are feared trapped inside the hull.
"There are some people who are trapped on board, we are in the process of trying to rescue them, we suspect it to be in the range of 18," navy spokesman PVS Satish told Reuters.
The vessel partially submerged after the fire. "We will not give up until we get to them," Satish added.
Several people have reportedly been rushed to hospital following the incident.
Fire brigades have been battling the blaze for almost three hours to prevent spreading to other vessels docked nearby. The INS Sindhuratna, which was docked close to the Sindhurakshak, was pulled away to safety.
Emergency responders are doing their best to ascertain the safety of the personnel and salvage the submarine, navy spokesman Narendra Vispute said.
The Sindhurakshak is a 16-year-old Russian-made submarine which recently underwent an overhaul and upgrade. The Indian Navy spent some $80 million on the upgrade and expected the vessel to be operational for at least another 10 years.
The submarine was involved in a previous incident in February 2010, when an explosion in the submarine’s battery compartment started a fire aboard, killing one sailor and injuring two others.
Authorities say the Wednesday explosion was likely an accident. A source told India Today that the explosion was likely caused by a leak of hydrogen gas during battery recharging – the same reported cause of the 2010 incident.
The damage the submarine sustained three years ago prompted the 2 1/2 year refit in Russia.